Tail of the talismen: Cahill v Mabkhout

Preparations have been finalised. The pre-game rituals completed. A spot in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final is on the line and a lot now rests on the shoulders (and head) of two players that have lit up the tournament.

The Socceroos' Tim Cahill and United Arab Emirates' Ali Mabkhout have undoubtedly been standout performers for their country and their contribution in tonight's semi-final should have a telling factor on the result.

Much has been made of Australia's reliance on Cahill up front but he more than handled the nation’s expectations when he netted the equaliser against Kuwait in the opening match of Asia's continental cup.

Seven different Socceroo goal scorers followed in the Aussies campaign but the 35-year-old reprised his penchant for the occasion, with two wonder-goals in the quarter-final against China.

Ali Mabkhout is a player most Aussie football fans will have known very little about prior to the Asian Cup but they’ve seen up close what he’s capable of in the attacking third.

The Al Jazira striker’s four goals have inspired the UAE’s unlikely charge to the last four - none more important than his volley against Japan, which helped eliminate the reigning title holders. 

A comparison of both players using Opta data stats reveals exactly where Cahill and Mabkhout have made their impact on the pitch, with both coaches sure to have a game plan to nullify their influence tonight.

It's little surprise that Cahill comes out ahead in terms of his aerial threat, winning over half his aerial duals, which is a great conversion rate for a striker. He also has a superior shooting accuracy and has won a penalty.

Described as a “freakish talent” by teammates this week, the frontman's defensive efforts should not be underestimated, winning 80% of his tackles and earning four fouls.

Coach Ange Postecoglou has made a point of managing the work load of his linchpin and with Cahill not having played the full 90 minutes in any of his four appearances expect him to be hungry to fire the Socceroos into the decider.

Conversely Mabkhout has played every minute of the UAE's four matches, including 30 minutes of extra-time in their shock quarter-final win over the Blue Samurai.

The playmaker's deeper lying role has seen him complete nearly three times as many passes as Cahill and with 10% better accuracy.

Critically, Mabkhout has made 12 recoveries, three interceptions and won seven fouls for his team en route to their best Asian Cup performance since they made the final as hosts in 1996.

Of course it's goals that will be the decisive statistic when the two teams meet at a soggy Newcastle Stadium tonight. While Mabkhout currently leads the standings 4-3, Cahill has a better goals to minutes ratio. 

There's one thing that stats can't measure and that's Cahill's uncanny ability to pull out something special when it matters. 

With the support of a sold-out crowd behind the Socceroos the Aussie talisman will no doubt be determined to come out on top and add to his prolific highlights reel tonight.

An Asian Cup final date with Korea Republic and the chance to atone for their Group Stage defeat awaits the Socceroos.

The Socceroos play the United Arab Emiriates in the Semi-Finals of the AFC Asian Cup on Tuesday 27 January with the match to be broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 505 and LIVE on ABC 1 from 8pm AEDT.